Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Best Decade Ever

Looking back over the past 150 years there are really only two decades worth talking about, the 1990's and the Roaring Twenties. The Gay Nineties were only gay for rich folk while the rest suffered through a long, withering depression. The 1950's were okay but not as idyllic as conservatives think - there was the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War, but mostly it was just a very dull decade.

Judging the 1990's and  1920's you have to admit the Twenties were better if only because they got named.

The Roaring Twenties
Singer Helen Kane (l), cartoon character Betty Boop (m), and Actress Clara Bow (r).
Bracketed by World War I and the Great Depression, the 1920's were a time of peace, raging prosperity, flourishing art, and personal freedom.

There were remarkably few wars, the biggest was the Turkish War of Independence that followed the British, French, and Greek partition of the Ottoman Empire.

The transportation revolution caused by the auto industry added with the stock market bubble caused by Republican laissez-faire policies (that would result in the Great Depression) made everyone feel free and rich.

Never was there an more exciting time for art in the United States than the 1920's. Jazz exploded out of New Orleans to become the dominate music of the decade and an enduring American legacy. The Harlem Renaissance (then called the New Negro Art Movement) saw a flowering of black writers, painters, poets, and musicians that has never been repeated in this country.

Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were at the top of a literary revolution unparalleled in the English language since. Radio began a completely new art form in the decade.

The decade began by granting half the population of the United States (women) the right to vote. Fashion freed women from the prison stiff Edwardian dresses and thick, Gibson Girl hair. In was the flapper bob haircut and short skirts.

The automobile granted everybody the freedom to leave the farms or the half dozen blocks of the neighborhood and see the world. Even Prohibition, the only amendment to the Constitution intended to restrict freedom had the opposite effect where drinking alcohol ceased to be a sin and started being an act of rebellion.

The Downside
Not everything was rosy in the decade. The Ku Klux Klan became a force in the 1920's. The freedom of the Harlem Renaissance was balanced by Jim Crow laws and lynchings in the South. Fascists took power in Italy. And those same Republican policies that caused the prosperity of the 1920's led to the economic collapse of the Great Depression.

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